A church across the street from The Backsteet Cultural Museum, sorry I forgot the name, I'll add it later...
This is Sylvester who is a beautiful storyteller and a powerhouse of knowledge. The Backstreet Cultural Museum is his work and I am so appreciative of him allowing me to take photos of his beautiful museum. I can not begin to type here the lessons he shared or the value of his stories. One simply must try to go to the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Thank you Sylvester.
New Orleans settlers tried to make Native Americans their slaves, but the Indians always preferred freedom and would run off to live in the surrounding bayou to fish and live as they had lived for thousands of years before others came to seek resources and "settle" the land. Sometime after the settlers realized they could not control Indians the settlers decided they needed hundreds of slaves so Africans were brought to New Orleans. Eventually, the African slaves noticed that the Indians wouldn't let the settlers and slave owners run their lives so the Africans learned from the Indians and started to learn each others language. These warrior suits come from celebrating the fact that if the Africans hid as Indians and learned how to hunt and live off the land as they did from the Indians...they could return to freedom. The white man had given up on making slaves of Indians because Indians wouldn't have any part of adopting the ways of the settlers or accepting such totalitarian dictatorship. HA!
When we walked in to the main room, we all gasped, Stagg the loudest of all...this was a mecca for him and he was so pleased to spend time talking to Sylvester. I really need him to come on here and explain the intense protocol that occurs when various "krewes" run into each other during the parades. Basically, the various krewes compete by making the most elaborate and beautiful tribal wear...these take all year to build beginning with small patches with thousands of beads, eventually in the fall a few men will work by combinning their patches and improvise these suits over months before Mardi Gras. They often weigh over 75 pounds. In fact, the heavier the better because the heavier the weight of the suit aides victory and respect between krewes.
I've included this membership application here in the hopes that a couple of visitors will print it out and send Sylvester some donation or fees to help him preserve these amazing stories represented in these warrior suits.
The figure on the left represents a "baby doll". You can see some of these costumes in action at this site which has some awesome photographs...
I believe making art and experiencing or exposing oneself to art...is to return to our beginnings. To always be in the process of contesting who we are and where our freedom and survival lies. Great art and art making has the opportunity to remind us of how we live and how we want to live and feel and to perhaps...remind us that we all have stories and lessons on how to reject oppression and art sometimes can record the transformative power of the human spirit.